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About Those Spanish Cucumbers …

Now that they have been plowed under, it turns out that they probably weren’t the source of the E. coli in Germany.

The BBC reports that the Outbreak is new form of E. coli

The Health Protection Agency said it was likely to be a new variant of the rare strain O104 – possibly with a newly acquired ability to infect large numbers of people.

In a statement it said: “While there is a lot more that we need to learn about this bacterium, the evidence that is already available tells us that the German authorities have been dealing with something new.”

Professor Gad Frankel, from Imperial College London, the Sanger Institute and the Medical Research Council, said: “This is a new combination and a deadly combination.

“It has a gene which produces a toxin and another which helps the bacterium colonise the gut more efficiently, which effectively means even more toxin is produced.

“Research we published last year showed this same factor mediates attachment to the human gut and the surface of salad leaves.”


They also report that Women more affected

One theory was that the victims were often people who liked eating what they thought was healthy food, say because it was low calorie (like cucumbers) or because it was organic.

But the scientists are now cautioning against that view. It may be too pat.

Dr Ulf Goebel of the Charite university hospital in Berlin said it might just be that this specific strain had something in it which found women’s bodies suitable and not men’s (just as some strains work on some ethnic groups and not others).

Intriguingly, a previous outbreak of this rare type of E. coli happened in the United States in 1994 – and again the victims were predominantly women, with the average victim being 36 years of age.

It would appear that the cause is in Germany, because all of the cases reported outside of Germany are apparently people who have recently traveled to Germany. Further, the Spanish cucumbers didn’t seem to cause problems in Spain or France. This points towards a German distributor as the immediate source of the problem.

While the bacteria may have a special affinity for women, it is also true that women are more likely to eat raw vegetables than men in the West. They are also more likely to do the food shopping and preparation, so they may acquire the E. coli while preparing the food, even as they wash the bacteria off the raw vegetables and protect the majority of those who eat it.

2 comments

1 Steve Bates { 06.04.11 at 8:57 am }

“Professor Gad Frankel, from Imperial College London,”

… henceforth to be nicknamed “Gad Cukes!”

Seriously, this kind of event makes me nervous, even if it’s an ocean away. I don’t eat cukes a lot, but I do consume a lot of raw veggies. We live in troubled times…

2 Bryan { 06.04.11 at 1:41 pm }

Logically, the problem is in the distribution network, i.e. the warehouses aren’t labs – if something comes in that’s contaminated, the contamination will be spread to other things in the warehouse. That’s why I segregate the meat, eggs, etc. from the other food, and clean up thoroughly after preparing them, before dealing with other things. I wash the veggies before I peel, slice, or dice them, and wash my hands at the same time.

As I have said before, if you have ever had food poisoning, you don’t want to go through it again. You make it a habit, and you don’t have to think about it – you just do it.